Promoted as the debut of one of Hirokazu Koreeda’s (and Miwa Nishikawa’s) assistants and in essence protégé, and featuring Yuya Yagira in the protagonist role, “His Lost Name” was a good idea, to say the least, from the beginning. The questions, however, if Hirose Nanako would be able to stray away from the clichés of the contemporary Japanese family drama (which follow Koreeda’s style, in essence) and if Yuya Yagira would be a good fit for such a low-key part, were hanging over the production, also from the beginning (for me at least). The following review answers both.

“His Lost Name” screened at
Festival des Cinémas d’Asie de Vesoul

Tetsuro, a middle aged carpenter who runs a wood shop discovers an almost unconscious man on a river bank. For reasons unknown in the beginning, he decides to take the young man (who introduces himself just as Shinichi) under his protection, providing a place to live and a job in the wood shop, to the surprise of his employees, one of which happens to be his fiancé. As the reasons for Tetsuro’s actions are gradually revealed, so do the ones that led Shinichi to his current situation, while a number of “dark” secrets come to the fore.

The answer to the first question is no. The excellent music by Tara Jane O’Neil may move in different directions that the norms in the genre, but the distinctive “japaneseness” of similar films is still here, with the relatively slow pace, the lack of much action, the few moments of quirky humor and the many of drama. Furthermore, some familiarity with the Japanese (general) mentality is another prerequisite for someone to appreciate the film, particularly regarding the motives but also the lack of direct (re)action from the protagonists.

The aforementioned however, do not mean the movie is bad. On the contrary, the unfolding of the narrative is quite good, and despite some unanswered questions (another trait of Japanese entertainment, as anyone who has read Haruki Murakami novels can tell you), the social comments are quite well presented. The fact that people tend to lie to themselves or deny the truth in order to feel happiness or satisfaction, the need youths have to belong somewhere and the need the grownups have of being needed are the most central ones, and actually carry the film till the end.

Furthermore, Takano Hiroki’s cinematography is excellent, with him capturing the bleakness of the town, which also mirrors the psychosynthesis of the characters, in the most artful fashion, in prefect resonance with the film’s overall style. Kikuchi Tomomi’s editing is also quite good, implementing the relatively slow pace in the distinct fashion of the Japanese drama. Lastly, the presentation of the work in the wood shop is very realistic, with the usual attention to detail Japanese filmmakers of the category usually show.

Regarding the acting, I have some objections. The appeal of having Yuya Yagira in your debut is, evidently, one that is difficult to resist, but for the particular part, he proved a wrong choice. The issue is that Yagira looks somewhat sinister, particularly through his eyes, and his acting ability, at the moment at least, is not at a level that he could be convincing at the role of a “victim”, of a timid young man whose inner struggle affects him deeply as a character. Kaoru Kobayashi does a nice job as Tetsuro, but I found that the chemistry between the two is not so good; an aspect that eventually faults the film. For example, I found Yagira less convincing in the scene where he finally reveals himself than in the one he lashes out on his friend’s mobile in a bar, although the former is much more important for the economy of the narrative.

Overall, “His Lost Name” does not manage to stand out (not much at least) from the plethora of similar films released in Japan, but still remains a hopeful debut, and a film that will satisfy most fans of the Japanese contemporary drama.   

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